Nicaea II and missing books

This post raises some interesting questions about the destruction of Iconoclast literature after the second council of Nicaea in 787 AD.  (Also commented on here at Labarum).

The thrust of the post is that the council ordered the destruction of iconoclast books, aside from those held in a private collection by the patriarch of Constantinople.  The existence of such a collection may explain some of the reading material listed by Photius in his Bibliotheca.

What I was not clear about, tho, was what the historical sources quoted were.  How do we know this?

Sadly a firewall prevents me posting a comment, but if you know, please let me know.

I find that this is supposedly from the 9th canon of the canons of the council.  In the NPNF translation these read:

Canon IX.

That none of the books containing the heresy of the traducers of the Christians are to be hid.

All the childish devices and mad ravings which have been falsely written against the venerable images, must be delivered up to the Episcopium of Constantinople, that they may be locked away with other heretical books. And if anyone is found hiding such books, if he be a bishop or presbyter or deacon, let him be deposed; but if he be a monk or layman, let him be anathema.


Ancient Epitome of Canon IX.

If any one is found to have concealed a book written against the venerable images, if he is on the clergy list let him be deposed; if a layman or monk let him be cut off.

Van Espen.

What here is styled Episcopium was the palace of the Patriarch. In this palace were the archives, and this was called the “Cartophylacium,” in which the charts and episcopal laws were laid up. To this there was a prefect, the grand Chartophylax, one of the principal officials and of most exalted dignity of the Church of Constantinople, whose office Codinus explains as follows: “The Ghartophylax has in his keeping all the charts which pertain to ecclesiastical law (that is to say the letters in which privileges and other rights of the Church are contained) and is the judge of all ecclesiastical causes, and presides over marriage controversies which are taken cognizance of, and proceedings for dissolution of the marriage bond; moreover, he is judge in other clerical strifes, as the right hand of the Patriarch.”

In this Cartophylaceum or Archives, therefore, under the faithful guardianship of the Chartophylax, the fathers willed that the writings of the Iconoclasts should be laid up, lest in their perusal simple Catholics might be led astray.

But here at IntraText I find a different version of the text.  Now IntraText is not a scanning site; they just use what others upload.  So which translation is this?  The same text is here.  I also find it here with attribution to Peter L’Huillier. 

After much searching, I find online “Canons of the seven ecumenical councils from the Rudder trans. by D. Cummings, 1957, with intro by Archbishop Peter L’Huillier.” (Chicago: Orthodox Christian Educational Society) and discussed here.


23 thoughts on “Nicaea II and missing books

  1. The original article posted by Turretinfan was in the cotnext of his debates with Catholics. He explained away the lack of patristic evidence against icons by their having been handed over to the Patriarch of Constantinople. As I explained in my post at Labarum, this is unlikely since three of the four ancient Eastern patriarchs had by then been under Islamic rule for over a century and were in no position nor had any inclination to give Constantinope anything whatsover. The iconoclast problem was limited to the Byzantine Empire and did not affect them. It seems likely in context that the canon refers to those writings that were of then recent vintage produced by iconoclasts and not writings of previous generations.

  2. Actually, the original article posted by me was in context of a series of inconvenient facts relating to councils. It’s a work in progress, with about 20 segments so far. Some of those are more inconvenient to advocates of Catholicism, some more inconvenient to advocates of Eastern Orthodoxy, and some inconvenient to naive or confused Protestants.

    The intra-text version was what I used (if I recall correctly). Do you suppose the translation makes much difference to the fact that the council ordered what amounted to the destruction of documents opposed to icons?

    The primary historical source, of course, would be (in this case) the actual canons of the council.


  3. I don’t think that the translation difference is important.

    I find loads of stuff supposedly by the Fathers misquoted online. So when I see an unreferenced quote being used for controversy, I twitch! That’s why I went out to hunt for the source, which is the Cummings translation of “The Rudder”, a Greek Orthodox publication. It all seems fine, in fact.

    I think that we need to get in the habit of linking to our sources, or at least identifying them clearly. I see too many atheists abuse the Fathers to smear the Christians, you see.

    I shall have to read the series on councils.

    The major loss of Greek literature is in 1204, as we can tell from the works read by Photius or excerpted by Constantine Porphyrogenitus which are no longer extant. Of course there were losses as well in 1453, and indeed there were patristic texts extant in the 16th century which are now lost.

    As I read the canon, we’re talking about works by iconoclasts, rather than long forgotten patristic texts. But we would also have to ask whether the canon was ever enforced; this is not a modern state like the UK or US, remember. Such decrees are probably not the major reason why texts are lost; instead it is the lack of people in subsequent generations to copy and preserve them.

    We could hardly expect the ante-Nicene fathers to write against the veneration of icons unless the practice was known to them. I believe Epiphanius of Salamis *does* attack the practice, which probably comes in during the 4th century after the peace of the church. Unfortunately I don’t know of an English translation of the work in question.

  4. I am trying to locate, online, a Greek language publication of the Canons of 2nd Nicaea. Can anyone help?

    I am looking for the useage of the words “prosekunesun” and “latrea”


  5. I have to admit I do not know. But what about Mansi, “Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima”? His work must be online in PDF form, and must include the canons of 2nd Nicaea, I would have thought?

    You’ll have to hunt a bit, but that should hit the spot.

  6. It looks like all of Mansi’s stuff is in Latin. I am illiterate in Latin. I do know some Greek and I understand that the letters and canons of 2nd Nicaea were in Greek. That is what I really need.

    HELP!! 🙂

  7. I understand what you are saying, but, as I understand it, the original was in Greek and that is what I am after. I have read, for instance, the English translation of 2nd Nicaea by Philip Schaff. (Post Nicene Fathers Volume 14) He acknowledges translating the word “προσκυνησης” (proskuneses) as “venerate,” when this same word is translated on all my English bibles as Worship. I could take Phillip at his word and just change “venerate” to “worship” but I am uncomfortable at doing this. I would be more comfortable if I had 2nd Nicaea in Greek.

    Thanks, though, for your interest and your help and that of TurretinFan. If anybody else out there is reading this and has an idea of how to obtain 2nd Nicaea in Greek, I would appreciate it

  8. TurrtinFan,

    Thanks. My problem is now that I need to cut and paste all of the Greek into .pdf then scan it for OCR, but first I need to segragate just Nicaea II. Is there anyplace that I might just download Tome 13? It would work easier. It is NOT on

    I appreciate that you are being very helpful and I am being a whiner, sorry.

    Larry Ball

  9. If you are using the links at the web page I identified above, you will be viewing volume 13 at Gallica (French National Library). along the upper edge of the reader there is a small icon that looks like a page with an arrowing coming out of it from the upper right hand corner (it’s just to the left of the icon that looks like an “i” in a circle. If you click that, it will provide you with download options – one of which is pdf.

  10. You are marvelous!!! Thank you so much. I have a feeling that I will be calling upon you again. You are really an asset! Thank you, thank you, thank you.


  11. Roger,

    I have adobe 8 pro on my laptop and adobe 9 pro on my desk top. They have both worked before, we will have to see if the will work on this material.

    I will let you know.

    Thanks for all the help.

  12. Well, nuts, it does not see to want to download. I think I am doing everything right. I ask for a pdf file and it gives me an incomplete download of .htm. Grrrr.

    Any thoughts?



  13. Good luck – let us know how it goes!

    Apologies for the brevity of responses, chaps — I seem to be buzzing around a frenziedly as a bluebottle today.

  14. Well, nuts, it don’t work. The lettering is not clear. In fact, it is even next to impossible for me to discern words in it.

    Well, we all tried. Thanks very much — I will keep looking.

    Glad to know about this resource though. Thanks

  15. Hi, two cents in the subject of the issue of the canon:

    I do believe it was intended against all iconoclastic evidence, whether Patristic or contemporary work. It can actually be easily proven: we don’t have the Eusebius letter to Constantia anymore, even though Nicephorus and Nicea II actually mentions they existed. What we do have from this letter is actually the parts of it actually read for its refutation. And thank God Nicephorus went back to the subject again, as more parts of the letter that weren’t shown in the Council are shown by him.

    The same with Epiphanius, all the extant work we have are the fragments Nicephorus and other quoted in order to refute them. The letter to John of Jerusalem was saved just because Saint Jerome translated it to latin, so it was included in a codex of Jerome’s letter and preserved in West. In the Eastern Church, those works were basically destroyed, save for those that were in the Patriarchal archives. But even still: did they take any care to conserve those books? Because works of heretics like Nestorius were pretty much destroyed save the Bazaar of Heracles; and just by this book, we know many things said about him in the Council of Ephesus and by Cyril were actually Strawmen’s fallacy; that’s not unique too, as miaphysist churches were historically recognized as “monophysists”.

    I hate the “History is written by the winners” trope, but it’s difficult to do research in a field where it’s highly likely that your author is perhaps not telling you actual facts about the people they hated.

  16. The labarum link in the post no longer works, as it appears the site went down at some point (there is still a site at that URL, but it’s a completely different group). The direct URL offered, unfortunately, wasn’t captured by, but it is still viewable here:

    This is an archived version of the main page, which happened to have the article in question (you’ll have to scroll down a little to see the “Icons, II Nicea, and Alleged Missing Texts” post). Just in case anyone was curious about what was being referred to in the post.

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